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Higher priority for railways

Railway development received high priority under the NDA II government. First under Suresh Prabhu and subsequently under Piyush Goyal, the railway portfolio gained weight. While the dedicated freight corridor initiated earlier by the UPA government was a major milestone, it has been taking long years to make an impact.
The handsome credit facilities contracted with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on attractive terms have helped in conceiving large projects like the bullet trains. The Ahmedabad-Mumbai project is being built with massive assistance from JICA at a total outlay of around Rs 110,000 crore. Making use of current techno-logy, the railways is working on tiered suburban rail corridors. The first of this cleared for the Mumbai suburban rail system is imaginative in building tracks over the existing tracks. This obviates the need for acquisition of land at high costs, especially in crowded metros.

Several cities are investing large amounts on metro rail systems. The present plans of expansion envisage the development of ten bullet train corridors. These include one for the south, Chennai-Bengaluru. As early as 2008, IE proposed developing such a corridor that can help reach Bengaluru from Chennai in just an hour!
Our specialist contributor, Bala Swaminathan, based in Hong Kong, on a recent visit to Japan, reported on the excellent state of Japanese public transportation, especially of railway, well-coordinated with other modes. These account for the bulk of the commuting traffic. In contrast, in crowded metros like Chennai, there is a wasteful reliance on personalised transport. Under the Smart Cities programme, the state government should endeavour to take the initiative to upgrade the transportation systems with generous funding from several developed countries.

For the first time in the post-independence era, Nitin Gadkari has brought about a much-needed focus on the development of inland and coastal waterways. Metros like Chennai have been endowed with such waterways that had served for centuries passenger and goods movements. These are relatively cheaper and pollution-free possibilities and need attention.

Over the decades the railways had lost their share in freight traffic to the roadways that are much costlier and energy-intensive. The National Train Capacity Augmentation Plan, Rail Vistaar Pariyojana, details plans to increase the share of freight transport carried by the railways to around 50 per cent of the total against the current 25-30 per cent. A liberal resort to technology and management to offer point-to-point service can help in this. A dynamic team at the helm at the Rail Bhavan can help the railway racing ahead of the road sector to great benefit to the nation.

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